Uber Files: Will the brand pull through?


Industry experts say smart and relevant marketing can help Uber get over the controversy

Just a few days ago, American mobility-service providing tech company Uber found itself surrounded by controversies as a news organisation made public more than 124,000 leaked documents citing how Uber flouted laws, duped police, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments during its aggressive global expansion. Called ‘Uber Files’, the company’s misdoings are doing rounds of international media, including in India. Can this new set of controversy impact the Uber brand image further in the country?

Brand-Nomics MD Viren Razdan notes, “Uber has withstood several shots at their credibility across markets. Health benefits for drivers/labour laws actions and now safety precautions. This (Uber Files) would definitely be a bump hard to negotiate if it gathers public opinion. The concept of Uber was not just pure convenience but a modern safe alternative; its failure on this vital aspect would damage its image.” 

The brand is already struggling in the Indian market despite having very few competitors on board. Over the last few fiscals, the operating revenue for Uber in India has constantly been shrinking and the pandemic worsened the momentum. The company’s operating revenues dipped by 20% in FY20, reaching Rs 719.06 crores from 891.85 crores in 2019, and further went down by 47.3% in FY21 to reach 370.5 crores. 

Monofys Media Founder & CEO Misbah Quadri shares, “The ‘Uber Files’ is just one story in a slew of negative press for the brand. The sense of forgiveness is very high in the general public till they are experiencing a product that offers them what they are looking for – which is a cab service taking them from point A to point B in these times of fast living. And Uber so far does not have a strong global scale competitor as far as servicing is concerned.” 

Out of thousands of leaked documents, one of them highlighted the Delhi rape incident in 2014 by a Uber driver, on which Uber blamed the Indian law and criminal database rather than accepting the crime committed by its partner driver. Additionally, independent investigations by a leading English daily found that in most Uber cabs, safety features mandated by the Delhi government, such as a panic button, were not present or did not work. 

What Should Uber Do

Smart and relevant marketing is often a tool to get over controversies for big brands. And Uber too should be working on these aspects from both operational and branding perspectives. 

As Quadri elaborates, “From a marketing perspective, Uber needs to weave into its operating and branding strategy an ethically binding approach. Their current stance of shirking off the entire debacle by labelling it as “past misdemeanour” is certainly not very morally and legally appreciable. Uber’s macro and personalized response to the dark and gory details of the investigation itself has largely been irresponsible and inadequate. Blocking scrutiny by means of advanced technology and not taking responsibility for the financial misappropriations and drivers’/ passengers’ safety is a major red flag.” 

In a statement to The Guradian, responding to the leak, Uber admitted to “mistakes and missteps”, but said it had been transformed since 2017 under the leadership of its current chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi.

An industry veteran adds, “It is the time for Uber to really introspect its operational models and work on improving its services. Marketing and branding tactics will mean nothing if the service on ground doesn’t improve for the brand. It should look holistically at improving user experience and give more rights and financial benefits to the drivers as well. I think privacy and safety concerns are to be addressed first. 

Razdan concludes, “Marketing some hard actions they’ve taken might smoother the dents, but those actions must be visible in their service, versus cosmetic programs, if it has to maintain its premium convenience positioning. Uber must not pass on the buck to shield its own gaps, like the government verification of drivers etc. and  Uber’s smooth ride has to have its own tracks.” 

This article first appeared in www.exchange4media.com

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